The Secret To Finding The Best Babysitters

photo by margolove @ flickr.com

The best babysitters are, of course, the ones who love interacting with your children and know how to take care of them in any circumstance. But now that my son is older, I have found that the best sitters – the ones who not only take care of his physical and emotional needs – are the ones who like to linger around after my child (and usually my husband) have gone to bed so we can discuss life. And books!

Hilary was our first real babysitter. A former student of mine, I plucked her from my classroom (while I was on maternity leave) and asked if she would be interested in regularly watching my newborn on Saturday nights. By the time my husband and I came home, Hil would have cleaned the entire house and be quietly studying for some upcoming, major test. She would tell me some cute thing my child did, and then she would tell me what she was reading: usually something out of a ridiculously heavy science book she was toting around. Always diligent, Hilary was incredibly detail oriented, so I was not surprised to learn that Hilary became a pharmacist — and is now a mother herself!

I met Marioli while strolling at Nazareth College, determined to find another good babysitter, you know, for when Hilary was not available. I had my l’il dude packed into his stroller and was tacking up those little tear-off sheets indicating that I was looking for a responsible babysitter, with expertise in watching young children, who was willing to make my son priority #1 while my husband and I were out for a few hours. While pinning up my ad, Marioli stopped to chat, got down on her hands and knees and cooed at my l’il person. She made him giggle, so – of course, I liked her right away. Standing up, her brown hair bouncing, she said she was interested in the position. Turns out, she had a whole crew of siblings; people she missed while in college. She knew how to take care of children because she had always taken care of brothers and sisters. She was astoundingly entertaining, extremely reliable, my son loved her — and she turned me on to The Poisonwood Bible and we talked late into the night about Shakespeare and Dante’s concept of Hell in The Inferno.

The need for swim lessons brought me to Jen, yet another Nazareth College student. (By then, it had become abundantly clear that with their strong education department, I needed only to hang around the education department for a few minutes, and I would find a solid babysitter.) Jen taught my son to swim. She brought him games to play, books to read, new things to challenge his mind. She played endless hours of LEGOs with him. (Lord, love her.) And then, at night, she would discuss the new teaching standards and show me the rubrics she had designed. She talked about her student teaching experience, the politics – the up and the down days. I screamed with joy when she landed a full-time job, even though I knew it would pull her away from our family. I was just so stinkin’ happy for her.

My beloved Billy went from former student to one of my son’s favorite babysitters. After Billy graduated from college, he worked crazy hours. He worked three or four jobs. Maybe five. Seriously. I don’t know how he did it, but he had to make money to put himself through graduate school, so he worked. A lot. Billy and I would stay up waaaay too late talking about classroom stuff. He recommended books like I Just Want My Pants Back (which sucked) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which rocked). More recently, Billy expressed frustration about how to get re-designated as “World’s Best Substitute Teacher” to Full-time Math Teacher in a classroom of his own. And, again, I screamed when I learned he just recently landed a long-term substitute position in the district he wanted. Okay, so it isn’t perfect, but it is a foot in the door. Foot. In. The. Door.

Now that my son is in middle school, we are needing fewer sitters. Luckily, Christina lives across the street. A voracious reader in 11th grade, her reading aptitude extends far beyond her years. In fact, everything about Christina is far beyond her years; she has an adult sensibility and has found an escape into the world of books. We have texted about whether or not Ordinary People possesses a “bildungsroman‘ motif. We’ve chatted about Wuthering Heights and Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and Death of a Salesman. As you can imagine, I adore Christina. She is like dessert after the dessert.

So my advice to parents looking for good babysitters? Go to your favorite, local college: one that has a reputation for its outstanding education program — and put up a sign. Ask the requisite questions: (What would you do if my child was bleeding? Choking? Knocked unconscious? Being a major pain in the butt?), and then ask:

What book have you really enjoyed?

If the person before you can’t pull a title out of his or her . . . um, brain . . . pretty darn quick, let ’em go. I don’t care how cute or nice she is, if she is the star of the field hockey team or the school musical. It’s all smoke and mirrors. But if you find a kid who says he has dozens of favorite authors, favorite books, how could he ever pick just one (and he starts tossing out a few titles), you have just stumbled onto a gold mine.

Hold on tight. You just might learn something.

What are your best tips on finding great babysitters? And what are you reading?

tweet me @rasjacobson

10 responses to “The Secret To Finding The Best Babysitters

  1. Oh, I envy your luck with sitters! My oldest is old enough now to take charge for a few hours – but until then, things were kind of hairy. We had good sitters, they just weren’t always AVAILABLE. Darn kids these days, daring to have a life outside of babysitting!!!!!

  2. Not sure my daughter could have pulled a book out of her…..eh…brain, but think that the fact that she was a 13 year Girl Scout made her prime material to be an excellent babysitter. You’ve got to figure that any girl who can handle the peer pressure of staying a Girl Scout from kindergarten through 12th grade has got the stamina to deal with kids.

    I used to find good babysitters by asking my neighbors. Since we moved a decent amount, I used to ask my new neighbors for their recommendations. And the girls were gems. We really lucked out. As a matter of fact, one of them used to have her flute with her since she came over right off the school bus, and she taught my daughter how to make a sound from the flute. And now my daughter is a flute major in college. So, you never know where a really good babysitter will take your child…. (not literally, of course!)

  3. With all that post sitting literary after talk, seems to me you’re (didn’t write “your” like that other lady a while back) the one that got baby sitted or satted or is its plural future infinitive gerundive perfect sutted? Or situated? ANYWAY we love Dante too. He makes the best pizza over on 6th Avenue!

  4. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all time favorite books. Never found a sitter who read it though. The best sitter I ever had for my kids was one of the girls who worked at the daycare. She wasn’t much of a reader; she was tattooed and pierced — not what you would expect — but she was on time every time, cleaned and straightened the house, and never complained, sat and talked to us after we came home. She loved my kids and they loved her. She almost became family. Sometimes you can’t judge a book by its cover.

  5. My youngest daughter is like this. After her HS classes she works at a day care and always comes home telling me about all of the adorable things the kids did. It’s good to see she has that kind of heart.

  6. We gather our sitters from among our friends’ kids who are old enough (and responsible enough), and interview new sitters from the ranks of our friends’ sitters…if our friends consider them “safe,” then we’re good with it.

    How do we know we have a good sitter? She (I’d say “he,” but we have yet to have a “he”) puts away the left-over pizza instead of leaving it to languish on the counter for 5 hours….she picks up whatever the kids did NOT pick up…she doesn’t just sit in front of the TV with the kids the entire time but instead plays board (bored!) games with the younger one…

    Funny story–one morning after we had had a sitter, I went into the fridge for the stash of raspberries I had tucked away….*GASP* Of ALL THE THINGS I had pointed out to her that she could snack on, SHE ATE MY RASPBERRIES! sniff sniff….What a great sitter! She ate (and encouraged the kids to eat) FRUIT instead of chips.

  7. This a very interesting idea that I have never thought of! Though I am nowhere near childbearing age, I will hold on to this thought. By the way, its interesting that you say being the star of the hockey team or the lead in a musical is all “smoke and mirrors.” As an avid high school athlete who was involved in many such things, I couldn’t agree more. It truly is all smoke and mirrors. Good thing I also have a load of favorite poets and authors going for me, haha!

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